Preserving a Champion in Missouri

In the heart of the Mid-west grows a monster. McBaine, Missouri is home to the state champion Q. macrocarpa. Standing more than 90 feet with a spread of 130 feet and a circumference of 23 feet, it is truly a giant. This giant is estimated to be somewhere in the area of 350 to 450 years old (no core samples have been taken). Not only is this tree the current state champion, but shares national co-champion status along with the Kentucky and Michigan state champions.     

This tree is not without its issues though, as a tree its age has seen many storms and vandalism. It is located in the Mo river bottoms and is surrounded by hundreds of acres of cultivated farmland. This bottomland was under several feet of water for extended periods of time during the 1993 and 1995 floods and who knows how many times in its lifetime.  A paved road cuts directly under the trees canopy and locals like to park under its shade which has caused a great deal of damage due to compaction. There once as a plague commemorating this grand old tree, but it is long gone, a victim of vandals. People have painted obscenities on its trunk, and the remains of a concrete patch to fix a cavity are still visible. The canopy is showing signs of decline, no doubt at least partly to blame are the floods and soil compaction.

In March of 2008, arborists from St. Louis and Columbia Missouri collaborated in efforts to slow and hopefully stop the decline. Bill Spradley and his crew from Trees Forests and Landscapes in St. Louis donated their time and materials to the preservation of the tree. Will Branch, Austin Lampe and I were fortunate enough to be asked to come down and help out. The compacted soil under the drip line was loosened up by drilling many small holes with an augur. The tree was treated with Cambistat, a chemical which slows shoot growth but promotes root growth. The canopy was relieved of its dead wood, which included a few of 2 foot in diameter or more. Scion wood was collected and passed on to a couple of people to propagate.

In the past two years since the initial work, I have climbed the tree to inspect and collect scion wood. I was very surprised to see that the year following the dead wooding; the tree had calluses up to one inch around the cuts.  However, this past year, I was a little disheartened to find that the decline had claimed a few more limbs in the top of the tree. I spoke to the owner and stressed that he should put up a fence to keep people from damaging the root zone. Despite these issues, the tree is a survivor, and has compartmentalized and calloused over lost branches up to three feet in diameter.

The scion wood that was collected has been turned into little clones and these have been planted in various areas throughout the mid-west. These clones make sure that the genetics of this grand old tree will not be lost in case the tree succumbs to old age or some other cause. Hopefully, with a little care, this tree will survive for many more generations and inspire the awe in them as it does us. 

Ryan Russell
ISA Certified Arborist
University of Missouri-Columbia